An overpaid airhead? Not me, Katie Derham tells the 'old-timers'

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The Independent Online

Katie Derham, the ITV news anchor, has hit back at veteran broadcasters who have dismissed the new breed of younger, photogenic newsreaders as overpaid airheads.

In an interview yesterday, she said it was "self-evidently rubbish" that they were all paid too much simply to read an autocue, as suggested by Kate Adie this week.

And she defended herself and others against the warning last month by Jon Snow, the respected Channel 4 newsreader, that a new generation of on-screen journalists had too little experience of reporting from the field.

If television news executives had believed she needed that experience, they would have sent her to earn it, Derham said.

"This argument went back and forth when Michael Buerk was sounding off about it, joining with Andrew Marr and John Humphrys saying we newscasters are all absolute airheads who get paid too much just to wear nice clothes," she said.

Humphrys claimed presenting television news was the easiest job he ever did. "You get a great deal of money, you have very little work to do and you don't need a brain," he said.

Derham, 34, a Cambridge University economics graduate, hit back at the brainless tag in an interview in The Sunday Telegraph. "It's an easy line, but it is self-evidently rubbish," she said. "With rolling news coverage nowadays you have to be on air constantly - and it is the overpaid airheads in the nice suits who have to hold everything together. We do have to think on our feet and we do have to have journalistic training, and professionalism, and common sense, because otherwise the product would be crap and we would be taken off-air."

Nonetheless, Derham admitted it might have been easier to win respect had she secured the kind of on-the-ground experience recommended by Jon Snow, the Channel 4 news presenter, in a speech last month. He expressed dismay and alarm at how little time some journalists now spent out of the studio reporting. "We are seeing the rise of a generation of anchors who have never been in the field," Snow told a Royal Television Society dinner. "They've never been told to drop everything and get on a story, get out of the office and to the airport. They've never been part of a reporting team on the ground."

Derham said such experience might have been interesting. "Do I wish I had marked my card by doing the Africa beat so that I could wave it at the old boys who are growling at me? Well, yes, I would have found that fascinating, but the way my career mapped out I was always doing more domestic news - business, then arts," she said.

It is clear which set of experiences and skills news station bosses value most. Although an examination of newsreaders' CVs shows no dearth of brains, today's anchors seem less likely to have earned their spurs covering international disasters and wars or even the "hard" end of home news.

Mary Nightingale, who left London University with a degree in English, began her working life as a City bond trader before presenting a daily financial news bulletin for Japanese television.

Emily Maitlis is a Cambridge graduate who became fluent in mandarin working in Hong Kong radio and television making documentaries before moving back to Britain as a business reporter.

Natasha Kaplinsky studied English at Oxford before doing stints in the offices of the Labour leaders Neil Kinnock and John Smith on her path into journalism, starting with a satellite television talk show with Ali G.

By contrast, Peter Sissons was shot in both his legs reporting the civil war in Nigeria before he got his chance behind the newscaster's desk while even those lacking the experience of dodging bullets often brought other experience. Alistair Burnet edited The Economist, for example, while the late Robin Day, who was the first newscaster on ITN, worked as a barrister before becoming a broadcaster.

Derham said, the "same essential newsgathering and editing skills" were involved in all journalism.

Battle of the broadcasters

* Andrew Marr, former BBC political editor: "Newsreaders, they really do come and go. I must say I have never quite understood why they are paid so much, why reading an autocue, however adeptly, earns you quite so much money."

* Michael Buerk, former BBC foreign correspondent and newsreader: "It is the only job that actually requires no talent at all. If you can read out loud you can do it. There are some real lame brains doing it." On one unnamed BBC newsreader: "Complete dumbo, this guy."

* Kate Adie, former BBC foreign correspondent: "There are many elements of news. It enriches your knowledge of the world. It informs you and perhaps entertains you. Well, the newsreader does. It is huge entertainment when they are paid forreading autocues."

* Jon Snow, Channel 4 News presenter: "We are seeing the rise of a generation of anchors who have never been in the field. There are people now who are saying 'Sorry, I don't do that', and 'I don't know how to do that' - and as a result never left the studio."

* John Humphrys, BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter: "Doing TV newsreading is the easiest job I have ever done. You get a great deal of money, you have very little work to do and you don't need a brain. I think my four-year-old will be ready in a couple of months."

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